Buffalo may be scuffling as a team, but don’t count Fernando Martinez among the ranks of players who are off to sluggish starts. Where the Bisons have hit a collective .159 and have gotten off to a 1-4 start, Martinez has slugged an International League-leading five extra-base hits through his first five Triple-A games.
The 20-year-old Martinez, in connecting for his first home run yesterday, crushed a no-doubter to right field that nearly left Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field completely. (Martinez’s at-bat is about 1:20 into the clip, which is well worth viewing.) The fifth-inning blast came against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre starter Kei Igawa, whom Martinez also victimized for an opposite-field double in the third. The Bisons fell short, losing the game 6-5.
Buffalo batting coach Luis Natera said that the home run came courtesy of an Igawa fastball, while the double was struck off a slider. While the 29-year-old Igawa may only notionally be a big league pitcher, he verifiably is a lefthander. Martinez batted just .217/.298/.368 against southpaws last season for Double-A Binghamton.
"Improving against lefthanders has been a matter of experience for Fernando," Natera said. "Playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic really helped him. [Note: Martinez batted .314/.376/542 in 153 at-bats for Escogido.] He saw lots of good pitching there, and it really helped him just to have a chance to work in winter ball and not worry so much about numbers."
According to a Buffalo press release, Martinez became the first Bisons player to hit the Heron’s Landing party deck stationed deep in the right-field bleachers.
"The most impressive thing about Fernando is his natural ability to hit the ball to the opposite field," Natera said of his star pupil, whom he also mentored for two seasons at Binghamton. "And he’s got that natural power. Now he’s getting better against lefties."
Natera’s praise rings true not only when considering the home run, but also when one considers that Martinez stayed on the Igawa slider to rope a double to the opposite field.
Limited to DH duties because of a left elbow injury, Martinez is batting .250/.348/.650 on the young season, going 5-for-20 (all extra-base hits) with three walks and six strikeouts. And while that line means practically nothing in the grand scheme of things—it’s April, after all—the three walks Martinez drew in Sunday’s game, a 15-inning loss to Pawtucket, were an encouraging sign.
He had taken multiple free passes in just one of his 146 games at the Double-A level, at which he batted a collective .281/.339/.410 in 644 plate appearances. In a strange twist, he also collected three walks in a game versus New Hampshire on May 28, 2007. Natera has stressed selectivity to Martinez.
"I’ve seen the biggest improvement in his two-strike approach," Natera said. "Before, he’d get panicked when he got two strikes and swing at anything close. But now he doesn’t panic. That’s something he’s learned, and I think it will lead to big improvements versus lefthanders."
The Buffalo-Scranton showdown featured more than just home run fireworks—five in all by both clubs—but also pitted the brothers Robertson against one another. David Robertson, a Yankees’ 17th-round pick from Alabama in ’06, relieved Igawa in the sixth inning and proceeded to strike out seven Bisons batters—while walking one and allowing one hit—in three innings of work.
Older brother Connor Robertson, who joined the Mets organization last winter in the Scott Schoeneweis trade, entered the game with one out in the sixth and held the Yankees scoreless for 1 2/3 innings. He struck out two and allowed one hit.
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